IF YOUR BLOOD is Crimson Club red, you'd have liked the scene last Tuesday afternoon in the Pioneer Room at the Lion House.
Ute graduates Thomas S. Monson and James E. Faust, first and second counselors, respectively, in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were seated next to the honored guest, Utah's Keith Van Horn. Also nearby were Athletic Director Chris Hill, media relations director Bruce Woodbury and assistant basketball coach Jeff Judkins. Red and more red.Van Horn, WAC basketball player of the year, was being honored by the Deseret News as its Athlete of the Year.
The food was excellent as was the service. But instead of dining on roast beef and mashed potatoes, it would have been more appropriate to be feasting on Cougar.
That's what Utah's been doing these past few years.
It used to be that the Deseret News Athlete of the Year Award was really the annual top athlete at BYU award.
Those early years saw recipients like Jim McMahon, Marc Wilson, Steve Young and Danny Ainge.
Finally, a lanky lefthander from BYU's backyard, Scott Mitchell from Springville, broke the Cougar stranglehold. It was great for the U. but almost disastrous for the Deseret News.
I recall going to the Huntsman Center with Publisher Wm. James Mortimer to make the presentation to Mitchell at halftime of the Utah-UTEP basketball game in 1989. Mitchell, who had readily withstood the rigors of the 1988 football season, setting numerous records in the process, was on crutches, having broken his foot while playing church basketball.
The presentation started well. Mortimer listed some of Mitchell's accomplishments and then uttered these profound words: "And he led Utah to a 57-28 victory over BYU." The applause and hollering were truly deafening. For minutes.
In hindsight, two things should have happened:
- Mortimer should have stopped there.
- We should have brought thousands of Deseret News subscription forms with us. We could have sold them all.
But the presentation had been pre-planned. Now came the part where Mortimer mentioned previous winners of the Deseret News award.
That meant BYU athletes. Lots of them.
There were some grumblings as he started going down the list and then he uttered two other profound words: "Danny Ainge."
Now a kinder man than Jim Mortimer you won't find. Not only would he throw his coat down for a woman to walk across the mud, he'd give her some money to buy a new pair of shoes in case they got dirty.
He'd been in the military. Been to Korea. Yet it's doubtful he ever faced hostility like this.
What saved us was that Mitchell, on crutches, was next to us. Thus, words and loud hissings and booings were all that was hurled at us. This would not have been a good time to pass out subscription forms.
Upon leaving, Mortimer uttered two final profound words: "Never again!"
Since then there have been pleasant luncheons to make the award presentation.
Also since then the trend has shifted.
After Ty Detmer it's been Utah. Exclusively Utah.
Keith Van Horn this year. Luther Elliss the previous year. Missy Marlowe before that. Perhaps Van Horn again next year.
Chris Hill's getting good at acceptance speeches. The unusual is now becoming commonplace. Utah winning the season series against BYU in baseball completed this year's sweep.
The sleeping giant in Salt Lake City is wide awake.
Rondo Fehlberg is fervently trying to shake the giant out of its slumber in Provo.
He might want to show it some of the pictures of recent Deseret News Athlete of the Year award winners.
That's been known to have an effect.